Garrard to keep 911 center

April 18, 2004|JIM LOGAN

LANCASTER - Garrard County's 911 center isn't going anywhere soon. Two months after the fate of the center appeared in doubt, county officials say their options for moving emergency dispatch operations have all but disappeared.

In February the Fiscal Court voted to formally investigate the possibility of having the Kentucky State Police handle the county's 911 calls, presumably at significant savings. Faced with millions in county debts, the magistrates were under intense pressure to find a way to trim its budget.

The prospect of sending 911 operations to the KSP's Richmond post touched off impassioned pleas to keep it in the county. Many people said they feared emergency response times would suffer badly and endanger lives.

"It just seemed like a big hullabaloo," said Judge-Executive E.J. Hasty, who preferred to keep the center in Garrard.

But Magistrate Walter "Tiddle" Hester says the dispatch center is staying put. After looking into the KSP option, he said, it was discovered that the Richmond post simply doesn't have room to take on Garrard's 1,100 calls a month.


"Unless they build a new post over there, it's not gonna work," Hester said Friday.

With moving the center not a realistic option, the county's focus now turns to trimming its budget.

In his 911 budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, Sheriff Ronnie Wardrip, who is also chairman of the 911 board, says he has dropped holiday pay and a cost-of-living increase. Also, all new hires will be part-timers, which means they won't receive any benefits.

In addition, the center will be receiving new equipment as part of a program with the Department of Homeland Security that should save about $12,000 annually in maintenance fees, Wardrip said.

Deeper cuts, he said, would be harmful.

"I've tried to explain it to the Fiscal Court - we've cut all we can cut," he said.

It was originally believed that fees paid the county by the phone companies serving Garrard would adequately finance the 911 center. The companies, Alltell and Bell South, would pay $3 per land line phone it served. The money comes from fees paid by phone customers.

The 911 center funding, however, was predicated on money from 8,000 lines in the county, and there are only 6,000 now. The number of cell phones has climbed dramatically in the past few years, but the wireless companies pay the county only .75 cents per line.

The result has been deficits for the center; last year's was a little over $72,000, while the latest proposal for 2004-5 is $76,847.95. The deficit is split between the county and the city.

Wardrip's budget for the coming year calls for $329,247.95 in expenses. He says he'll talk to Alltell about the county's bill with the company, which runs to nearly $40,000 a year. It's possible, he says, that it could be reduced.

"I hope Ronnie will get it toward $300,000," Hester said of the budget. "By then it might be supporting itself."

The prospect of closing or moving the dispatch center, along with the loss of reasonably well-paying jobs, was painful, he said.

"I don't want to see it moved and I don't want to see people lose their jobs," Hester said. "I've got too much feeling for the people there."

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